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First a pre-Twitter disclosure: I bought my first cell phone as a 70th birthday present for myself. In 2011 when I went to buy it, actually to buy a smartphone, the salesman asked me which phone I had been using.

“This is my first,” I told him. He stared at me, saying nothing. To fill the silence and put him at ease, I almost said “Oh, just kidding.” But instead I told him, using my middle school teacher voice, “I’d like to buy a Motorola Droid.”

“Is it really your first phone?” he asked.

“That’s the truth,” I responded.

“Well,” he said, “maybe you should think about starting with something easier to use.” Now I stared at him, saying nothing. So much for the effectiveness of my school teacher voice.

I had done some research. I had talked with friends. I played with my friend Melody’s Droid. I talked with my cousin Steven who was doing some work at Google on a special project, and he checked with his friend who worked there and knew all about smartphones. I had made my decision.

Since then, I purchased my second smartphone, this a Samsung Note. I text. I’m on Instagram. I check emails. I read the news online daily. I read books when I don’t have my Kindle handy.

And now I tweet.

How it happened: My friend Ruth was visiting one day last fall and suggested that I check out Twitter, that she found it professionally interesting. Also, Ruth knew that I was planning to launch my blog, and she pointed out that Twitter would be one way to announce when I posted. She guided me through setting up my page. She followed me. I followed her. Our friend Leo was there, too, and he signed up. We both followed him and he followed us. I sent my first tweet: This is my first tweet. Ever. Stay tuned.

That was on September 20, 2014. I tweeted again four days later. And then it took me almost three months to post my third tweet. On December 18, I tweeted that I was going to launch Marilyn Burns Math Blog on January 5. A friend told me about hashtags, and I included some in that tweet. Since then I’ve tweeted, retweeted, and replied to tweets more than 200 times. I’m on my way.

I’m not an expert on how Twitter works or how best to participate. Here are some questions I have:

  • Why do some of my tweets come out in large easily readable type and others appear in small type?
  • Why do photos I post sometimes appear sideways?
  • What are lists and how should I be making use of them?
  • When responding to a tweet, how do I make my tweet link to the one I’m responding to with that helpful vertical line that seems to link some tweets?
  • Is there a difference in tweets when I put people’s usernames first or last?
  • I was excited when I figured out how to send a tweet and include the tweet that inspired it, but it’s been hit or miss since then. How do I make this happen?

But I’m learning every day, and here are some highlights.

  • I’m developing a feel for how much I can communicate with 140 characters and when I need to blog instead, as I’m doing now.
  • I’m enjoying posting student work that surprises, amuses, and/or instructs me. As an example, I tweeted a fifth grader’s solution to 1/2 + 2/3.

    • I like taking photos (yes, with my Samsung phone) and sharing them at #mathphoto15. “Three” was the theme for one week’s photos and I posted this tweet.

    • I loved discovering @WODB?Math (Which One Doesn’t Belong? Math) and thinking about a reason why each of the images might not belong. I recently tweeted one from the Adirondacks where I am for the summer.

    • A video on Twitter introduced me to a probability game I’d never seen before and I used it in a week-long unit I taught to seventh graders last spring. (Stay tuned for a blog about that experience. In the meantime, check out the video on You Tube at What Is the Probability?)

    • I’ve learned about many blogs that have been interesting, instructive, and inspiring. When I find one, I follow the person on Twitter and sign up to receive the posts.
    • I was intrigued by watching dots in a tweet, following how each moves in a straight line. I retweeted this and also shared it with friends who aren’t math teachers. If you’re not on Twitter yet, you can see this at Watch the Dots.


With all this tweeting, face-to-face conversation is still my first choice.


  • Kristin (@MathMinds) says:

    Not that I am a Twitter genius either, but so many people answered my questions along the away, I thought I would take a stab at yours (at least the ones I know;)..

    -Why do some of my tweets come out in large easily readable type and others appear in small type?
    I have absolutely no idea why this happens..heehee, sorry:)

    -Why do photos I post sometimes appear sideways?
    Sometimes if I turn my phone and take a picture, the orientation is sideways and I have to rotate it within my images on my phone before posting. On my computer, however, I have had that happen even after rotating and saving it…feels like a little glitch sometimes.

    -What are lists and how should I be making use of them?
    Lists will help sort tweets you want to read if you are following different “groups” of people. For example, let’s say one day I just wanted to read tweets from my colleagues at work, I can put them all in a list and when I clicked that list, I just see their tweets. It almost serves as a filter of tweets. I can imagine it could be really helpful and I always say I am going to do it, but I haven’t gotten that organized!

    -When responding to a tweet, how do I make my tweet link to the one I’m responding to with that helpful vertical line that seems to link some tweets?
    I am going to assume you mean the little line above the tweet that says “In reply to..” and go with that. I think after a couple of responses, instead of having the entire thread show up, that little line comes up on its own to shorten the appearance in the feed.” When you just respond once, I don’t know if this happens, or if people just have to click your tweet to see what the previous one was? Sorry, not much help on this one!

    -Is there a difference in tweets when I put people’s usernames first or last?
    From what I understand, if you put the other person’s handle first, only people who follow you both can see that tweet. For example, if you sent me this “@MathMinds….” people who follow both you and I can see it. If you put “Hey @MathMinds….” then all of your followers will see it. Now if you want to start with my name but have all of your followers see it, you can put a “.” in front of it like this “.@MathMinds…” That makes it public and is handy with replies you want others to see.

    – I was excited when I figured out how to send a tweet and include the tweet that inspired it, but it’s been hit or miss since then. How do I make this happen?
    If you hit the retweet button, it lets you put a message with the other tweet right under it. On your phone you choose “Quote Tweet.” If you want to link to a previous tweet or thread, there are three little dots under each tweet that you can click and choose “Copy Link to Tweet.” It will give you a link to put in another tweet to link back to that one.

    Hope that helps a bit!! I am so excited you are tweeting and blogging, it has been an amazing addition to the #mtbos!

    • Marilyn Burns says:

      Thanks, Kristin, for the terrific suggestions and support. I have a folder where I store all those conventions (tricks?) I need when I’m formatting blog posts. I call it my Cheat Sheet. Now I’ll add these. It’s interesting to me to see which I finally internalize and which require that I check my notes. Kind of like kids memorizing multiplication tables.

  • Dan Meyer says:

    Fun post, Marilyn. As I mentioned when I shot past you in Boston, it’s been a treat to see someone take so quickly and exuberantly to a new medium.

    Adding to Kristin above, when someone /follows/ you, they see all your tweets in exactly the same font size in their timeline, same as anybody else. But when someone comes to your Twitter page – where all of your tweets have been collected – they see some tweets larger than others. I believe Twitter enlarges your “broadcast” tweets and shrinks your “conversational” tweets, speculating that your newcomers might be more interested in one kind over the other.

    I’ve never made much use of lists until recently when I put a bunch of people I argue with into one list. It allows me to check out of my echo chamber every now and again and see what people who disagree with me are thinking and talking about. That’s been helpful. I don’t want to /follow/ them necessarily but I also don’t want to ignore them.

    Hope the Adirondacks are treating you well.

    • Marilyn Burns says:

      Thanks for the hints. I’ve checked and it seems that the sizes of “broadcast” and “conversational” tweets are as you described. Another mystery solved.

      The Adirondacks are terrific, as always — morning swims, loons calling, beautiful sunsets, and (thankfully) DSL to our boat-access-only camp.

      • Annette says:

        I will save this informative tweety/blog for future reference, as I am a tweety novice. (Does that mean I am a twit?) When breathing space becomes available to me, I shall follow you. Not that I don’t already.

  • DANIEL REIN says:

    Dear Marilyn,

    I’ve not yet succumbed to Twitter but I have other friends who push me in that direction. What about Facebook? Are you on that as well? Why was one first, the other second? (I avoid FB as well.)

    I find that too much of my time is taken up with the 200+ emails I receive daily — not to mention life .

  • Deborah Coburn says:

    That cheat sheet is now a tweet cheat sheet.

  • Rita Lowy says:

    I have a Twitter account but never use it. I just may, now. Thanks for your post, Marilyn.

  • Shecky R says:

    unless I missed it, management APIs with Twitter haven’t been mentioned… I think Hootsuite and Tweetdeck are the two biggies, but there are others, and I find them essential, along with plenty of lists, for more efficient use of Twitter (I have lists for math, science, breaking news, animals/nature, politics, and several more)… and I always have Hootsuite (in my case) running in the background when I’m on the Web, basically as a running newspaper of many columns. You may want to get a li’l more comfortable with Twitter before looking into management apps, but I wouldn’t wait too long.

    Re: Facebook… personally, I despise it (and don’t trust any policy they state!), and little use it, but I know others who could barely live without it at this point, so depends on your circumstances. Alternatively, you may want to look into Google+ (if you haven’t already).

  • Tara @ttmathmaniac says:

    I have had a Twitter account since the fall of 2013 and keep saying I am going to use it. I loved hearing from the #mtbos crew at NCTM Boston and have promised myself I will be using it this year!

  • Sue Chapman says:

    Thanks for sharing your learning journey. What a powerful model of a growth mindset! I’m going to figure out how to tweak about this blog.

  • Kathy Wiser says:

    I like your blog very much. I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at a math comference in Palm Springs once. You have always made me feel that everyone can do math problems. I just went to a teacher summit at Cal St Fullerton called Better Together. Everyone was encouraged to join Twitter. Your words made me think that I can do it too.

  • Graham Fletcher says:

    Glad your on board and thanks for continuing to make us all smarter!